Restaurant workers say the pandemic has brought fewer tips and more sexual harassment

December 8, 2020, 1:47 PM UTC
A waitress clears a table.
Artur Widak—NurPhoto/Getty Images

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! We need a Marshall Plan for Moms, Shemara Wikramanayake makes her first big deal at Macquarie, and restaurant workers report a disturbing uptick in sexual harassment. Have a lovely Tuesday.

– The customer is not always right. With New York City seemingly headed toward a halt to indoor dining amid spiking COVID numbers, the plight of restaurants and restaurant workers has been on my mind.

But while much of the pressure on restaurant employees is coming from the virus—a biological force with no conscience or empathy—what’s really appalling, according to a new report from One Fair Wage, is that strain is being amplified by other humans, who should be fully capable of both.

This NPR story notes that One Fair Wage found that “more than 80% of workers are seeing a decline in tips and over 40% say they’re facing an increase in sexual harassment from customers.” The group even called their report, “Take Off Your Mask So I Know How Much to Tip You,” after one of the comments a worker says she received from a customer. Sixty percent of 1,600 restaurant employees surveyed also said they feel unable to enforce social distancing and masking rules among the customers they depend on for tips.

Ugh. There’s so much to unpack here, from customers’ blatant disregard for their servers’ safety, to the gender dynamics of having to display your body for tips, to an industry that requires workers to submit to such sexist—and now physically perilous!—behavior in order to earn a living wage.

Certainly, COVID-19 has exposed many problems with the current structure of the U.S restaurant business, including its reliance on ultra low wages bolstered by tips. Providing workers with a fair hourly wage certainly seems like a sensible step to take, though I’ll leave that debate to people with far more knowledge of the industry than I possess. What’s clear is the current set-up isn’t working—and that the female workers on the front lines, dealing with aggressive, entitled customers, are bearing an unfair and dangerous share of the dysfunction.

Kristen Bellstrom

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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“I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against COVID-19. It means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year.”

-Margaret Keenan, 91 of Britain, who was the first person in the world to receive an authorized, fully-tested vaccine on Tuesday. Nurse May Parsons administered it.

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